If your new budgie's tail and wing feathers seem stunted, she may be suffering from Polyomavirus infection - a disease that kills many young birds. It's most common in breeding facilities, but you can spread infected feces or dander to your pet if you frequent aviaries, pet stores or bird shows.

Risk Factors and Detection

Although Polyomavirus is most common in budgerigars, it attacks other psittacine groups as well, including lovebirds, macaws, conures, eclectus parrots and ring-necked parakeets. Passerine species such as finches and canaries also are at risk. Polyomavirus rarely affects adults.

When this swift disease strikes budgies, young nestlings often die before you notice signs of illness. Affected birds are small for their age and may exhibit fluid-distended abdomens or skin bruising, which occurs as the virus infiltrates the liver. As the liver deteriorates, the birds may experience weakness, bleeding, appetite loss and dehydration.

Pets who survive to the fledgling stage usually exhibit abnormal feather growth, a sign of psittacine beak and feather disease, which often accompanies Polyomavirus.

Detecting Polyomavirus in other species is more difficult because the signs are less obvious. Although the virus appears later in these species, between 2 and 12 weeks of age, it progresses more swiftly, and fledglings die within 24 hours of the first symptoms.

To diagnose Polyomavirus infection, your veterinarian will ask about your bird's travel history, nutrition, housing and other signs of illness. Next he will perform blood tests to check for liver damage and virus exposure. If your pet dies, the doctor can perform an autopsy to confirm the cause of death. Almost all infected birds show signs of liver damage, but the virus can also attack the spleen, kidney, skin, feathers, brain and heart.

Prevention and Treatment

Quarantine new birds for 60 to 90 days, and ask your veterinarian to routinely test your bird for disease. The doctor may recommend vaccinations for high-risk groups, such as pet-store birds, pets who attend bird shows and birds in collections with frequent additions.

Infected birds shed the virus in feces and feather dander, so sanitize your pet's cage regularly. And don't keep budgies or lovebirds if you plan to breed larger parrots, because they often harbor the virus.

Treating most viral infections in young pets is difficult. Nestlings' weak immune systems usually can't cope with the Polyomavirus, so the infected young birds often die.

However, there is good news. A quick diagnosis and strict control measures will help protect your pets from this deadly disease.